Do yourself—and your co-workers a favor—by following this doctor's orders.

Lauren Wicks, Nutrition review by: Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
March 06, 2020
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Anxiety is high in the workplace as the threat of a coronavirus outbreak looms in our communities. Health departments in cities where coronavirus cases have been reported are issuing guidelines for employers on how to prevent and manage the spread of coronavirus.

We asked Erin Snyder, M.D., a primary care physician and doctor of internal medicine at The University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, how to determine if you should stay home from work when you're feeling run down. While some of us don't have the luxury of paid sick days or flexible time off, these guidelines are a good rule of thumb to consider if you're wondering if you should call in sick.

"This advice is for your typical garden variety illness, like the flu or a cold," Snyder says. "We are still figuring out coronavirus, and it's important to comply with the guidelines issued by your employer or local health department if given." Be sure to check with the CDC for the latest updates on COVID-19.

How to Determine If You're Too Sick to Go to Work

Snyder says to not even think about going into the office if you are:

  • Running a fever
  • Vomiting
  • Having diarrhea
  • Persistently coughing or have a running nose that is so persistent you can't keep your hands clean

If you're worried you have symptoms related to COVID-19, stay home and call your doctor. The most common symptoms of this coronavirus are fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms and develop the flu or a cold, one day out of the office isn't going to cut it either.

"The rule of thumb is that you can go back into the office only after your fever is gone for 24 hours without any medication," Snyder says. (She says a fever is defined as any temperature over 100.4 degrees).

Snyder advises steering clear from the office for 7-10 days if you have the flu, and at least 2-3 days if you have a cold. While your fever may subside after a few days, you may want to consider working from home—if that's a viable option for you—until the rest of your symptoms start to subside. If working from home is not an option, be sure to practice proper hygiene and rest as much as possible in your downtime as you recover.

How to Determine If You're Too Sick to Work From Home

Technology has made it easy for many of us to bring our work home when we are feeling run down or have a conflict, but that doesn't mean we must take advantage of this perk while we're sick.

"If you feel like you ought to be in bed, be in bed!" Snyder says. "If you feel like you need a nap, your body is trying to tell you to go rest."

Just like Snyder says not to go to work if you have a fever, severe cough, runny nose, vomiting or diarrhea, you shouldn't be working from home if you have those symptoms either. Chances are, you'll feel a whole lot better after dedicating a day or more for actual rest, instead of trying to keep up with work while battling a virus or bacterial infection.

The Bottom Line

While you're in the office, Snyder says you should be disinfecting your computer keyboard, mouse, desk surface, work phone and cell phone every day. You also should wash your hands after eating, after using the restroom, after interacting with a sick co-worker and after you blow your nose. And do your best to not touch your face.

Now's not the time to be a hero and show up to the office with an illness. Do yourself—and your co-workers—a favor by listening to your body and staying germ-free. COVID-19 is still very new and there are some strict guidelines being issued in certain parts of the United States and across the globe. If you are concerned you were in contact with someone with the virus or may have the virus yourself, stay home and call your doctor.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.